"There are approximately 100,000 street kids in Addis Ababa at any one time."
At this point, Australian architect and Design Fellow Matt Hughes is well aware of the rougher side of Ethiopia's capital, and its young inhabitants. For the past year he has been working with the youth outreach organization Sport the Bridge on this very issue.
Matt speaks from firsthand experience through his design work in Addis; he's also heard harrowing tales from the children as they fight for survival in neighborhoods like Merkato. Here,s self confidence may be the scarcest resource of all.
"These children are not loved, they are not respected and they are not given any care. They are kicked beaten and screamed at by everyone – given nothing that they don’t scrape for themselves," Matt writes frankly.
Sport the Bridge is part of the continent-wide Football for Hope program which builds community centers leveraging football for sustainable social and human development programs such as health promotion, peace building, anti-discrimination & social integration, and children's rights. Sport the Bridge reintegrates street children into their families and public schools and fosters personal development. The organization works mainly with boys aged 6-12 years, incorporating meals, clothes, and classes in English, Amharic and mathematics, in a safe, supportive environment.
Existing facilities used by Sport-The Bridge
From his time in Addis Ababa, and through conversations with Sports the Bridge, the local Architect of Record and other consultants, Matt has developed a design accommodating Sport the Bridge's needs and establishing a landmark for the community - and the street children who form such a large part of it.
“Merkato is one of the most downtrodden areas of the city, and like most low income areas, the most lively.”
Full of markets, shanty dwellings, beggars, traders and street children, Merkato is the most likely place to be robbed, the most likely place to find a bargain, and the most close knit community that Matt has experienced in Addis Ababa. “As a foreigner walking these streets I am immediately a target for calls, questions, invitations to share meals and drinks and of course for pickpockets.”
As Matt travels within this community to the site ‘Chaka Meda,’ he is welcomed by name by people he has never met.
“They have heard about me, and about the project from this close community where everyone talks.” People come to watch Matt work, often bringing surveyors and geotechnical investigators, architects and engineers.
“They see the interest in their community and they want to know what we are doing – are we stealing their dirt football field? Are we building high rise apartments or offices? When they see what we are doing (we bring pictures of other centres) they are excited.”
Left, the site. "Chaka Meda" means "forest area," though, Matt notes, few trees now grace it. Right, Matt with surveyors.
These days, elders and community leaders come to greet them and make sure they are not bothered. However the reminders of the team’s purpose are no less constant.
“As we walk the streets behind the open field we can see the poverty here. It is without compare.” The dirt streets are jammed shanty dwellings, walls at odd angles, leaning off each other for support. “Rent beds go for 1-2 birr per night (5-10 US cents)." These are the accommodations of the children when they can find the money. "If they can’t then they sleep in the open.”
A society, Matt asserts, is only as strong as its weakest members.
“We know that the Football for Hope program with Sport the Bridge will strengthen the weakest and smallest members of this community.”
And in turn strengthen Merkato and, with enough luck, greater Addis Ababa.
Stay tuned for Part 2, as Matt works with Sport the Bridge to combat the impacts of street life, poverty and isolation with architecture.